Operation Battle of Drazgose

The 'Battle of Drazgose' was a battle between Slovene partisans and the German armed forces in the village of Drazgose in that part of Slovenia annexed by Germany after 'Unternehmen 25' (9/11 January 1942).

This battle was the first direct confrontation between the Germans and Slovene partisans, and ended with brutal reprisals by the German forces against the villagers and the destruction of the village.

Following its occupation of Slovenia, Germany planned to annex Upper Carniola, in which Drazgose is located, and 'Germanise' the local population. The Germans expelled nearly all Slovene priests, as well as teachers and other intellectuals, forbade the use of the Slovene language in schools and churches, brought in German-speaking teachers, and drafted Slovenes as forced labourers. This soon generated resistance, initially only in the form of small-scale actions, but the Soviet halting of the German forces before Moscow in December 1941 led to hopes the war would soon end and prompted the Slovene Liberation Front to start a wider uprising in Upper Carniola.

The main partisan unit in Upper Carniola was the 'Cankar' Battalion created in August of 1941, and this had already carried out a number of actions against the Germans, including an unsuccessful attempt to free prisoners from the Gestapo headquarters at Begunje. On 12 December 1941, the 'Cankar' Battalion encountered a unit of German armed police near Rovte v Selski Dolini, killing 45 of them, perhaps one of the largest such single-battle successes to date in all occupied Europe. This emboldened the Slovenes, and hundreds of persons joined the 'Cankar' Battalion.

News of the uprising reached Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, who ordered the despatch of additional armed police battalions to suppress the uprising, and the German authorities also shot 37 Slovene prisoners, mostly partisans and partisan supporters, at their Gestapo headquarters in Begunje na Gorenjskem. The Germans attacked the 'Cankar' Battalion at Pasja Ravan, where the partisans resisted for three days, killing dozens of armed police. Knowing the Germans were sending reinforcements, the 'Cankar' Battalion decided to retreat from Pasja Ravan and, after discussing a number of alternatives, opted to retreat to Drazgose.

For their assault on Drazgose, the Germans gathered four battalions with more than 2,000 heavily armed men, including artillery and a spotter aeroplane, to attack some 200 partisans of the 'Cankar' Battalion. Over three days of fighting between 9 and 11 January, the Germans suffered 69 casualties while the partisans incurred 20 casualties.

On 11 January, the Germans and a number of Slovene local collaborators managed to enter the village. That evening, the exhausted partisans were forced to leave the village, withdrawing to Mt Jelovica, and some of Drazgose’s residents joined them in the withdrawal.

Some sources state the partisans chose Drazgose to challenge the German forces, and that the villagers asked the partisans forces to leave the village, while others note that the movement to Drazgose was merely one of the several options considered by the partisans after their fights against the Germans at Rovte and Pasja Ravan, and also point to the fact that when they arrived in the village, the partisans allowed the local population to inform the Germans of their presence, so the village would not be held responsible and suffer reprisals.

Two days after the Drazgose engagement, German troops attacked two partisan platoons on the Mosnje plateau, and in the course of the resulting 13-hour engagement killed some 12 partisans and wounded another five.

After the 'Battle of Drazgose', German troops killed 41 villagers, including 21 civilians at Jelensče, executing 18 including seven children. They killed two more as they sought to escape, and also killed a small girl when a German soldier threw a grenade into a cellar full of civilians. During the evening of the following day, a further 18 male residents who had previously escaped, but were seized as they returned, were executed, houses were looted, and the village was set on fire. In February, the Germans returned to demolish the entire village with explosives. The remaining villagers were then seized and sent to concentration camps.

The German public announcement of the village’s destruction and the sending of women and children to concentration camps proclaimed wholly untruthfully this was the result of the villager’s failure to report the partisans' presence. After listing the reprisals inflicted, the German announcement finished with a threat to all the residents of Upper Carniola that 'Whoever is against us will be executed.'